Come the end of first term, the usual chaos ensues where desperate students search among their three-month-old friends for potential future housemates. Equipped with the housing knowledge of an adolescent and half-made friends, these students then proceed to charge into every estate agent in town, desperately looking for the ‘dream house’. This one looks good, but at £129 a week they’d barely be able to scrape together the remains of a meagre student loan to afford groceries. And that one looks lovely on the tin, but mould on the ceiling gives off a foul odour and the slugs on the floor don’t look promising.
I, like many other students, came across these pitfalls when I began searching for a house in the latter end of the grandly named ‘Michaelmas’ term at Durham. Being typical stingy students, we had a tight budget to work with. As a result, the upper end of the housing spectrum was already out of the question. Jacuzzi house? I wish.
Now when I say we were on a tight budget, it may surprise you that we settled for a house that cost £87 per week – each. The price of £87 a week converts to £25,000 throughout the year – and that’s bills exclusive. And what exactly came with the house? A slug-ridden carpet, a back yard my dog turned her nose up at and six microscopic rooms.
I actually measured my room and it was one square foot above the legal minimum size for a room. I bet the bastards did that on purpose. Sadly, I doubt that this would hold up in court. The absurd thing was that the bathroom was actually about one and a half times the size of my room. What’s the reasoning behind that, I wonder? However, it’s one thing to make a room so small (this becomes even more of a problem when drunk), but it’s another thing to then proceed to cram the largest Ikea furniture into every square inch of the poor room. The table took up about half my room, and the only arrangement of furniture that would fit resulted in my bed jammed up against the window. The first option was a nasty draft from the window and the risk of concussion on the razor sharp corner of the glass-topped table. The second option, which I settled for, lacked both a bedside table and a light. Suffice to say I made do with a clip-on light whose wire trailed half the way across the room – a death trap.
It pains me to say that I did grow fond of that chicken-coop of a room, plastering every spare inch of the moist (yes I hate that word too) walls with photos and the inevitable landlord’s nightmare – BluTac. I didn’t put too much time or effort into removing the sticky blue mess – needless to say, maybe that’s why there’s still no sign of our deposit being returned.
However, one thing that I never became attached to was the thinness of the walls. The division between my room and my housemate’s was so flimsy that I don’t even think it deserves the title of “wall”. “Partition” or “tissue paper” would be more apt. A redeeming quality was the fact that my tiny bed was right up against this narrow section of peeling plasterboard, meaning that every occurrence next door could be heard perfectly. Believe me, this was not pleasant.
Perhaps the next worst thing was the size and state of the kitchen. Cereal in a saucepan? No thanks, but it’s the only option I’ve got. The majority of the normal cereal receptors (wait, what are they called? Oh of course – ‘bowls’) lie piled up in a heap on the side, with the rest strewn about in various locations in the house. One, I’ve noticed, is slowly gathering mould in the bathroom.
Moreover, the floor of the kitchen/living room, hideously small for a six-person house, was littered with empty beer cans, infinite Tesco plastic bags, underwear, a piano case and spilled food. Yum. We also compiled our meagre funds into buying a strobe light, a smoke machine, a laser, a shisha pipe and a home-brew kit. This did considerably improve the ambiance of the room… as long as the light wasn’t turned on. We also had various drunken night trophies, which include lanterns stolen from Castle, a plethora of posters taken from various colleges, and the cliché traffic cone (of course), which always seems to place itself inconveniently right in front of the door, so should you try to enthusiastically enter the room, you are rewarded with a cartoon-like rapidly growing conical bump on your head, as Newton’s second law cruelly plays out and the door bounces off the traffic cone and springs back in your face. I’ve been there too many times.
The fridge is laughably small, and six 2L cartons of milk struggle to fit. Often, upon opening the door, a multitude of food tumbles out, and your reflexes are tested as you attempt a catch X would be proud of. The living room however has vastly improved following the addition of about ten (alcohol related) posters, which barely stick to the horribly moist walls, and the drooping tinsel adorns the doorframe. In fact, the sofas even look inviting: luscious black leather gleams in the dingy light, probably gleaming from the sweat of five adolescent boys (obviously I, as a girl, don’t ever perspire), but once you sit down your rear is met with a rather sticky and rather hard seat. Not impressed. And that’s not all, you can’t even recline sideways as the arms are rather too angular and angrily dig into your back, and the size of the sofa means that I can’t even fit lengthways (I’m 5”4). My poor 6”3 friend was forced to spend a whole night on the aforementioned sofa, with legs dangling precariously over the sofa arms. Safe to say he didn’t get the best night’s sleep (sorry Daniel).
I think I’ve about finished my rant, but try to remember three points from this article:
1) Be cautious before you choose your house. If you can stand walking, a bad location can save you a lot of money.
2) Choose your housemates wisely.
3) Don’t opt for the smallest room.
Photograph: Mysid, via Wikimedia Commons